It’s the seesaw of business growth: balancing your P&L with your growth ambitions.
We seem to be having this argument with ourselves as business owners year over year. We know we need marketing for growth, but the expense brings with it huge PTSD around waste and risk. We’ve been there before, with humbling hindsight and much regret. Still, we wonder how much we should invest—and in what.
Often, the solution is simple math. We only have this much to spend, so let’s try this or that to see what sticks. Sometimes, it’s the tension between investing in marketing or investing in sales.
I’ve seen documented cases of analysis-paralysis. The decisions are overwhelming, the data is inconclusive, and it’s just easier to do nothing. But, where does that leave your growth goals?
The hardest step on any journey is the first one, and this could not be more true than in marketing. Without data to support a strategy, how can you project results? And, if you have a CFO, that’s what she is looking for—data to support the spend.
Carving Out Conversion Trends to Build a Plan
How do you mine data to support your strategy and project results?
In a recent CMO assignment, I watched growth goals blossom from an urgent wish list for lead generation and revenue build. It looked good on paper. But it made me sweat if I’m honest. It’s not enough to want growth. We have to be able to project growth based on as many facts as we can muster from past performance.
Sometimes, the data just isn’t there.
Even if no one’s been tracking the sales process, we still have the freedom to go back and carve out conversion trends from the information we do have in hand. Even in a weak sales organization, it was possible to see the gaps in converting leads to deals and then decide whether the investment should be allocated to strengthening a weak sales team—or generating new inbound leads.
In one company, we saw challenges in both sales and marketing divisions. It became clear, however, that to truly suss out weaknesses in the sales team, we had to fuel them with promising new leads. This way, we could justify changes on the sales side as we studied close rates.
There’s no easy way around this. Rallying around a focused strategy—instead of spending limited dollars everywhere and doing nothing well—allowed us to bite off just the essentials for 2021, and then plan for 2022.
Here’s how we rationalized marketing spend to bring in promising new sales leads:
- Revamp the Buyer Journey
- We eliminated spending aimed at long-tail performance results; namely, awareness. Since awareness is the most expensive and time-consuming performance metric, we abandoned PR spending and curtailed trade show and conference attendance. That way, the cash could be deployed against a multichannel lead gen program.
- Acknowledge Purchase Cycle Truths
- Acknowledging the hard truth of purchase cycle dynamics in the B2B space is a tough call. But, expecting top-of-the-funnel leads to come in and buy a five-digit service after a single introduction was simply pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking.
Where does that leave your growth goals?
- Instead, we refined the on-site content and invested more in a refined paid search platform to better qualify site visitors on their first touch. This helped efficiency on the sales side and better-defined manpower needs.
- Develop a Customer-Focused Content Strategy
- Let’s admit that grinding out content is a beast, and periodic blog posting just isn’t enough anymore. Instead of the “If You Write the Blog, They Will Buy” philosophy, we developed a customer-focused content strategy based on real customer frustrations—rather than a laundry list of products and services that didn’t distinguish the brand from competitors.
- Then, we took this content and repurposed it for a variety of channels: industry publications, LinkedIn, and email campaigns (and yes, the website blog) to build budget efficiencies and consistency in message and cadence.
The Results of the Plan and Projected Data
Because we laid out a clear plan that included stats based on past conversion trends, C-suite decision-makers were able to easily jump on board and support an aggressive budget.
As you might imagine, they were quite pleased with the results at the end of the year:
- Inbound leads grew by 220% YoY
- Number of closed deals grew by 64%
- Revenue was up 32% YoY
The Simplest Solutions Can Be the Hardest to Implement
I didn’t say marketing efficiency would be easy, but it’s more a mindset game than anything else. And, it starts at the top as a business leader. Setting firm priorities—and sticking with them—will matter in performance, team morale, and planning for next year.
Here are some guideposts as you begin to set goals for your sales and marketing organizations:
- Be Specific About Success
Don’t tell your team “we need more revenue.” I mean, who doesn’t? Get specific on the priority audience you want to reach to achieve your growth goals. Focus on a single-minded problem you’ll help them solve. And define the metric that will drive success for the company. This will help your team isolate the channels they’ll invest in to get the job done. You have to start somewhere, and trying to boil the ocean can get you into deep waters.
- First Things First
Once you’ve clarified a limited set of success parameters, and the strategies that will achieve them, figure out what has to happen before you go all in. It wouldn’t make much sense to send out an email blast if you don't have a specific destination or offer to capture interest.
It’s not enough to want growth.
A company I work with once linked an email campaign to their everyday “Contact Us” page. The lesson? A form and a Google location will not drive someone down the funnel. Think about the buyer journey, and execute marketing “in the order in which it will be received,” to coin a phrase.
- Try Patience, For a Change
One reason to have a strategy is to manage your own expectations about marketing.
If your business has a long-term growth opportunity, your strategy can support activity that builds awareness and engagement with the long view in sight. If you need to show proof of concept to investors, retain an already stretched staff—or compete with a new entrant in your space—then a more transactional growth strategy needs to be developed, leaving the brand building for another time. These are choices you’ll have to make as the team leader.
Responsible marketing investment requires a reality check on your timetable to manage expectations. We all want the hockey stick, but we need to earn it over time.
The Hard Work Begins with You
- Demonstrate your willingness to make focused decisions that leave some of the work for later, when budgets allow.
- Proselytize the merit of doing a small set of things well instead of many things halfway.
- Get buy-in on realistic and actionable KPIs (not just a wish list).
Commit to strategic oversight and opportunities to optimize; your in-house and outsourced marketing teams will be better situated to deliver.
For a deeper dive into marketing strategy, feel free to view this webinar: “How to Avoid Random Acts of Marketing”
See our YouTube channel, Marketing Air-Cover, for additional guidance on marketing strategy for small businesses.
Learn more about hiring a fractional CMO here.